Jakarta Bombings

Latest posts by Isaac Harmelin (see all)

Explosions and gunfire echoed down the streets of Jakarta ten days ago as militants attacked a popular Starbucks location in the heart of the Indonesian capital. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, igniting yet further international debate about the problem of Islamic Jihad.

At 10:55am on Thursday 14th of January local time, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Starbucks venue near a shopping centre, with chains of Western stores in the surrounding area. Two other militants who were outside the café then grabbed two foreigners, dragged them into a carpark and shot them.

They then began firing into the street, causing chaos. One witness said, “On the street, people just abandoned their vehicles. Just like that and ran.”

Heavily armed police were quick to respond and began engaging the militants, who returned fire and lobbed grenades. Two more terrorists then rode a motorcycle toward a nearby police post, blowing themselves up.

After a 10-15-minute firefight, the police took control of the area. In total, seven people appear to have been killed, including five militants, and 24 more have been injured in what is the first major terrorist attack in Indonesia since 2009.

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis has been in contact with Jakarta to offer law-enforcement and intelligence assistance. The office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, said the embassy is making urgent enquiries about the unfolding situation.

The attacks have raised concerns in Indonesia and abroad about the risk of citizens who have fought overseas with ISIS and other terrorist groups, who then return home with the skills and connection to conduct terror activities. Police Chief Tito Karnavian told the media that Nahrun Naim, the militant who plotted the attack from Syria, instructed his Indonesian cells to mount the attack on Thursday.

Naim was arrested in Indonesia in 2010 for the possession of ammunition and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, after which time he left Indonesia as a high-ranking member of ISIS.

A blog, believed to be either run by or on behalf of Naim, give instructions on the mounting of insurgent attacks and guerrilla warfare in cities. All of the posts written in the blog are written in Bahasa.

As the world grapples with the problem of Islamist attacks and the spreading threat of international terrorism, the debate over the trade-off between security and freedom is a fire evermore eagerly stoked by interested parties on both sides. Countries like Australia are engaging in national discussions over whether citizenship should be revoked for those caught fighting overseas and whether people travelling from certain regions should be automatically barred, raising questions about civil rights as well as state sovereignty.

It’s also a time when the three-way battle between genuine bigots, ever-regressive capitulators, and middle-ground critical thinkers comes to the fore. At this point, when we need to be discussing the particular origins of these attacks and the reasons for them, we require informed, analytical approaches and actions that are appropriate and proportionate.

Islam is a religion based on the Quran and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Islamism is the intention to achieve politically a state governed by the principles of Islam. Jihadism is the use of force and violence to achieve or enforce these principles.

The problem comes from a lack of courage to speak honestly and openly about contributing factors in this conflict. For instance, former Islamist turned counter-narrative activist and founder of antifundamentalist think-tank Quilliam,  Maajid Nawaz, says that he is subjected to internal discrimination from his own community for voicing dissenting opinions. Nawaz is a practicing Muslim and believes that universal human rights including the freedom of speech and the freedom to exercise one’s religion should of course be preserved.

But he also feels that claiming that his own religion has no inherent problems, that it is immoral to criticise its ideas, that there are some teachings that Muslims should not follow, that Islam is no different to any other religion and poses no special problems, is simply naïve and myopic. That’s not to say ditch it – it is to say, we should be able to talk about it. Especially the internal Muslim community.

Islamophobia is not letting your children mix with Muslims, is vandalising mosques, is being afraid that every Muslim is a terrorist.

Criticising the doctrines of any religion in a context of open, frank, academic discussion, is not Islamophobic. When a person accuses another person of being Islamophobic for saying, “I think that this idea here is a bad idea”, they are simply trying to make them be quiet.

When discussing the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Nawaz said that the drawing of the prophet Muhammad may have been offensive to other Muslims but that in a secular and pluralistic society people should not have to be afraid of drawing and criticising whatever they want.

There are a large number of people on the planet right now claiming that their violence is justified by the cause of Islam. Very often, it is true that they have a been disinformed as to the meaning of texts, as well as given false narratives about world events. But sometimes, the texts do preach violence. Religion does not have everything to do with current world problems. But it has something to do with them and we shouldn’t be afraid of openly discussing these issues.

We can’t immediately make assumptions about the content of speech just because the speaker opens up with the terms “religion”, “Islamism”, “Jihad” or any other term which has become loaded.

It is not racist to criticise ideas.